The brackets are out, and based on the fact that you’re reading this, you’re either deciding what to do with SEC teams in your bracket or you’re trying to get some affirmation.
Here’s hoping I can provide some of that.
So let’s map out how far each SEC team will go in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 5 Auburn — Sweet 16
Here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like the fact that Auburn is somehow still on that No. 5 line, despite the fact that it pulled off an impressive 4-day run in the SEC Tournament. I also don’t like the fact that New Mexico State is a difficult first-round matchup having not lost since Jan. 4. But I saw a new side of the Tigers by not relying on Jared Harper in the SEC Championship, and that bodes well for the balance the Tigers will need. Ultimately, though, a loaded UNC squad proves to be too much in the Sweet 16.
No. 10 Florida — Second round
I actually told myself that Nevada was going to make another March run. But I think Florida will embody its Jekyll and Hyde ways by playing an incredible first-round game against the Wolf Pack, only to lose to an experienced Michigan squad in the second round. I think the Gators give Nevada problems defensively and it turns into a grind-it-out, down-to-the-wire game that Florida has been in plenty of this year. That would still be an impressive feat for a team that looked completely lost at points in 2019.
No. 2 Kentucky — Sweet 16
Wait, that’s it? Isn’t this Kentucky squad geared up for a Final Four run? Perhaps, but I have my eye on that Houston matchup. A team that was a buzzer-beater 3-pointer from beating eventual runner-up Michigan last year is going to have all sorts of ammo. Kelvin Sampson’s squad will defend in a way that’ll bother the young Cats. Maybe I just keep thinking about that horrendous offensive showing they had against Kansas State in last year’s Sweet 16. But I just get the feeling with a potential UNC matchup looming, Kentucky gets caught looking ahead.
No. 3 LSU — First round
Listen. I outlined in great detail already why I think LSU has a daunting road ahead without Will Wade. Assuming that’s still the case, I have a hard time believing the Tigers are in for a deep March run. That’s even with Javonte Smart and Naz Reid back. How ironic it is that LSU will face a school involved in its own improper benefits scandal. Yale is a tricky matchup with its ability to light up the scoreboard. They’ve got 4 players in double figures with veteran guards who can take advantage if LSU is out of sorts. A strange season has a bitter ending.
No. 5 Mississippi State — Second round
I know what Seth Davis said. I know what Calipari said.
Seth Davis says Mississippi State will get upset by Liberty. Coach Cal says they won't beat Mississippi State. Adds, "Is that your hope or your opinion?"
— Scott Anderson (@SAndersonNOB) March 17, 2019
I went back and forth on this one, but I’ll give MSU the slight edge. A Liberty team that defends extremely well will give Quinndary Weatherspoon and the Bulldogs all they can handle. The Flames had the sixth-best defense in America, but here’s what I can’t get past: They lost to Alabama and Vanderbilt already. I’ll take Ben Howland over the team that has never won an NCAA Tournament game in its history. But Virginia Tech, a battle-tested ACC squad that’s got an even better head coach in Buzz Williams, ends MSU’s run before it can reach the second weekend.
No. 8 Ole Miss — First round
What Kermit Davis has done in Year 1 is nothing short of admirable. The job he did to get Ole Miss to this point after being picked by many to finish dead last in the SEC is worthy of praise. But I didn’t really like what I saw from Davis’ squad down the stretch. Losing 5 of the final 7 games isn’t great for a team that isn’t loaded with all-world talent to turn to when shots aren’t falling. I think Oklahoma gets some revenge after last year’s first-round exit and Ole Miss has a deflating end to its underdog season.
No. 2 Tennessee — Final Four
I’m doubling down. Again. I know I said before the SEC Tournament that I was still a Tennessee believer, and the Auburn loss didn’t necessarily change that. Coming off the Kentucky thriller, Tennessee looked like a team that played in its Super Bowl the day before. I still believe that Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone is as reliable of a trio as any in America.
And that’s not a slight at Jordan Bowden or Lamonte Turner, both of whom have had their share of clutch moments and could have some more. I’m not worried about Cincinnati fans making it a hostile atmosphere in that second-round matchup because I have a feeling Tennessee fans will travel extremely well, and I think the Vols can play in the half-court game like Virginia will require them to.
Ultimately, I see UNC as the only team capable of getting in the Vols’ way, playing at a similar up-tempo style like Auburn did.
But hey, what Tennessee fan wouldn’t sign on the dotted line for a trip to the Final Four?